Cell phones, TVs undo efficiency gains: study

LONDON (Reuters) - Demand for energy-thirsty gadgets such as cell phones, iPods, PCs and plasma TVs is undoing efficiency gains elsewhere, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

An Apple iPhone mobile phone is seen with Twitter status updates of a Kogi Korean BBQ-inspired taco truck that is on the way to a location as patrons wait in line before it arrives, in Torrance, California, April 17, 2009. Demand for energy-thirsty gadgets such as cell phones, iPods, PCs and plasma TVs is undoing efficiency gains elsewhere, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

The Paris-based energy adviser to 28 developed countries urged governments in a report to keep pace with the invention of new consumer devices when crafting efficiency standards, and implored people to make thriftier choices.

The IEA warned that otherwise energy used by household electronic devices could triple by 2030.

Energy consumption is associated with carbon emissions because most electricity is generated from burning high-carbon fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

But the world doesn’t have to curb an insatiable appetite for ever more clever, exciting or fashionable gadgets, provided people chose the most efficient versions available, said IEA analyst Paul Waide.

“There is a way of having our cake and eating it at the same time by being much more proactive on efficiency,” he said.

“We can hold total consumption at today’s levels by using best available technologies, despite a dramatic growth in use.”

He said that governments have generally been a bit more reluctant to introduce policies for these types of products because they’ve been changing so much.

“They need to be less hung up on what they call the product and focus on functions,” he added referring to categories such as surfing the internet.

Technologies were already available to improve efficiency by at least 40 percent across most appliances, the report found, but uptake depends on choices by fickle consumers.

“The extent of savings is large; however the energy and financial savings on individual residential appliances often appear insignificant to consumers,” the report said.

Green activists have dubbed 2009 as the year of climate change because of a deadline to agree in December a U.N.-led global climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

But rising home energy use underlines how dramatic action on climate change would need action by individuals as well as governments. The report underlined the difficulty of cutting greenhouse gases as people’s lifestyles became increasingly affluent.

Residential electricity consumption has been growing in all regions of the world at an average of 3.4 percent a year since 1990, the report said.

In many rich countries electricity use by appliances which had previously accounted for most usage, white goods such as refrigerators and clothes washers, was now falling.

But growth in use of electronic devices such as iPods, video games, televisions, personal computers, modems, mobile phones and printers more than offset those falls.

For example, U.S. electricity consumption by television sets has more than trebled in the past 10 years, and personal computers (PCs) showed sharp rises. Power use for heating and refrigeration fell.

The study estimated that the number of people using a PC would pass one billion this year. Already there were nearly 2 billion television sets in use and over half the global population subscribe to a mobile telephone service.